Rollin’ On The River
Do You Remember the Good Ole Days?
by Helen Ballard
The interest, kindness and assistance offered me generously by Russell Bailey, Terry and Sheryl Rose, of Covington, Tennessee, have enabled me to collect the background material for this book. It contains a small portion of Civil War History of Randolph. And as the title implies, this book is a collection of thoughts and questions about family life as it use to be. Take time to read each question, think back and relive it for a few minutes, then in the space which has been provided under each question, fill in your answer or comment. H.L.B.
Early West Tennessee history tells us that during the 1830’s and 1840’s, Shelby County inhabitants on the fourth Chickasaw Bluff looked upon the river town of Randolph as being a “dangerous” economic rival. Yet by 1861 however, Memphians were looking to Randolph as a means for their very salvation.
In the spring of 186, civil and military leaders of the Confederacy, and Tennessee believed that the main Federal invasion would proceed down the Mississippi River Valley. Memphians began to express with clamor the urgent need for the protection of this vital waterway. On April 20, 1861 the Memphis DAILY APPEAL published a letter in it’s columns written by a citizen of Tipton County, Tennessee with read in part:
“I see you Memphis people are greatly excited about the proper defense of your city against the invasion of the Vandal hordes of the North… I think that you need not be half so anxious, and need not spend half so much money in preparations… if you would only send us, up here in Tipton, a… small battery and a few hundred men with their long shooters. Randolph is the proper point for Memphis to prepare to receive her invaders…”
Accordingly, within a few days Tennessee officials ordered Lieutenant Colonel Marcus J. Wright at Memphis to take a battalion of infantry and a battery of artillery and proceed to Randolph as quickly as possible. Thus began the military occupation of the legendary town.
Randolph was established sometime between 1823 and 1827, below the second Chickasaw Bluff, along the Mississippi River. From Memphis, Randolph was about 35 miles north by land and about 60 miles by water. This village was located in Civil District four of Tipton County. By 1860 this civil district had 667 inhabitants. Sixty-four families accounted for the 334 white citizens. Out of this number, fifteen were owners of 333 negro slaves. Of the occupations listed on that year’s census, farmers and laborers were the most numerous.
The district included four merchants, three blacksmiths, two teachers, and one each classified as a doctor, tailor, brick mason, and millwright. At least one hotel was situated “near the river” at Randolph. Twenty years earlier the town had a population of over a thousand. Now only an estimated twenty families were all that remained, and these accounted for probably less than two hundred residents, free and slave.
The Vanguard of Lt. Col. Marcus Wright’s arrived in late April. Captain James Hamilton, and his Memphis company of volunteers known as “The Southern Guards” took formal possession of Randolph in the name of the Southern Confederacy. A member of this company recalled years later that this unit was the first one raised in Memphis for Southern defense, and the first to occupy Randolph. He went on to add that Memphians then considered Randolph to be the “post of honor”.
Next came the “Steuben Artillery”, a light field battery which was commanded entirely by Memphians of German nationality. The remaining companies of Wright’s Battalion were: “The Young Guards”, “The Harris Zouave Cadets”, and “The Jackson Guards”. These young volunteers were the sons of the first families of Memphis, and were some of the finest blood the South had to offer.
Little is known concerning the [Mississippi] River Defense Brigade, Provisional Army of Tennessee. Headquartered at Randolph in Tipton County, Tennessee, this brigade was composed mainly of West Tennesseans under the command of Brigadier General John L. T. Sneed. An attorney, Mexican War veteran and prominent state politician, this Memphian’s military career during Tennessee’s second war for independence was short lived. General Sneed commanded his troops less then three months before having to hand over his soldiers to the Confederate authorities.1
Although Tennessee’s official secession ordinance was not declared until June 24th, 1861, Governor Isham G. Harris, along with the Legislature had begun preparations for defense of the state as early as April 26th. Upon that date Governor Harris issued an order directing General Samuel R. Anderson to the task of organizing the volunteer forces of West Tennessee and also instructing the commanders of companies to report to the general’s headquarters at the Gayoso Hotel in Memphis. This was the official movement for the organization in Memphis of the army that afterward became historic as the Army of Tennessee.2
On May 1st, the general assembly provided for the appointment of commissioners to enter into a military league with the authorities of the Confederate States of America, in anticipation of the secession of the State. Eight days later Governor Harris transmitted to the Legislature nominations for general and staff officers for the Provisional Army, John Sneed being one of the brigadier generals nominated. After being duly confirmed the new general was on his way to Randolph for his new assignment. Just what exactly his instructions were remain unclear but one thing is for certain, the near deserted village that was once the might arch-rival of Memphis was ill prepared for the troop concentration that it was about to encounter.3
The first troops ordered to Randolph left Memphis aboard the steamer H.R.W. HILL on May 4th, 1861, and arrived at 11 o’clock the next morning. One of those soldiers noted in his diary that it rained all day long on the 5th, especially during the debarkation from the steamer. Marching up a very steep hill to the camping ground a mile distant from the river, the diarist concluded his entry for the day noting that due to the inclemency of the weather they had been prevented from pitching their tents and had to march back to the ship.4
In all probability there were some 5,000 troops stationed at Randolph. Earthwork construction and drilling composed the duties of the soldiers. Fresh pork, chicken, and turtle soup were among the bill of fare enjoyed by the West Tennesseans. One soldier noted in his diary a special celebration:
Law’s entry in his diary dated May 30th, 1861 will be of some interest to Tipton Countians. On that date the soldier was ordered by General Sneed to detail four men, and proceed to the Hatchie River, to guard some “sons of the Emerald Isle”, who were engaged in sinking a steamboat across the mouth of the river.8
It appears from another soldier’s account that life at Randolph was a little unpleasant, at least for a while. Private John Milton Hubbard, a member of the “Hardeman Avengers”, later Company E, 7th Tennessee Cavalry, wrote of their campsite:
Hubbard wrote that it took a couple of days to clear the area of the pests but soon thereafter “the hills and valleys were covered with the tents of the Provisional Army of Tennessee”. He also noted that while at Camp Yellow Jacket he ran into a fellow private, who was speeding along on a magnificent black horse. Hubbard had known the man for some years before. His name was Bedford Forrest!9
Two other prominent visitors of Randolph during this period were Gideon J. Pillow and Sir William Howard Russell. Pillow, a major general of state troops during the Mexican War and the senior major general of the Provisional Army, was a distinguished Democratic politician and friend of Nathan Bedford Forrest. Sir William H. Russell was a correspondent for the London TIMES who left many invaluable writings on the War Between the States. 10 Here at Randolph, Wright’s command would serve as a “protecting force” for the fortifications under construction.
Engineer officers on duty at Randolph were Captains Philip Stockton, and J. T. Champneys of the Confederate service, and Major Montgomery Lynch, Captain W. D. Pickett, Sr., and LT. Edmund W. Rucker of Tennessee’s Provisional Army. Initially, slave labor was used in erecting the fortifications. Later the soldiers themselves were ordered to take the spade to expedite in the completion of the works. On May 1, the DAILY APPEAL informed it’s readers that “the work on the fortification at Randolph is going on with the greatest dispatch…”
Eventually, the irregular fortification known as Fort Wright would enclose an estimated thirty acres. Four batteries were built on the bank of the Mississippi River, three of them mounting three guns each, and the lower one six. These were heavy siege guns, 32 and 64 powder’s. A military road was cut to provide quick access form the infantry camps to that of the artillery batteries. About three miles further up, another three gun battery was built above the mouth of the Hatchie River. The engineers failed to construct a road from Randolph to this battery however and water transportation was the quickest way to gain entry to the post. Powder magazines for each battery, and a series of entrenchments were also built to protect the rear of these gun emplacements from a land assault. Breastworks were also built for additional protection. A steam was purposely sunk at the mouth of the Hatchie River by the Confederates with the view of impeding Federal navigation and troop landings.
On September 23, 1862, the packet Eugene from St. Louis landed at Randolph and was fired upon by a small band of some twenty-five to fifty men. The act enraged Gen. Sherman who was commander of the district with headquarters in Memphis. He ordered the town burned. On the afternoon of September 24, Randolph lay in ashes.
Apparently, there were no wood or masonry structures erected at Fort Wright. The soldiers lived either in tented encampments or in a few of the tenantless, and dilapidated buildings of Randolph. The fort had no spring of water within the line of entrenchments upon the first troop occupation. Soldiers had to carry every bucket of water used, from the river. Subsequently, the engineers erected a “small wheezy second-hand steam-pump” on the bank of the river. This device would force the water up the bluff into a large cistern that had been constructed for that purpose. This cistern held about a week’s water supply for an estimated 2,000 men.
The terrain in and around the fort was hilly and rough. Large masses of rock formations were also encountered. This second Chickasaw Bluff was cut deep with ravines covered with timber and brushwood. The plateaus atop the bluff were cleared and here and in the outlying areas became the encampments for the majority of the soldiers.
Communications and transportation to and from Fort Wright were conducted by the Mississippi River steamboats based out of Memphis. Perhaps the largest of the river boats was the INGOMAR, purchased by the Confederacy in 1861 for the transportation of troops and supplies. As many as fifteen hundred soldiers could be shuttled between Memphis and Randolph on the INGOMAR. The steamer MARS could make the downriver run from Randolph to Memphis in eight hours. The MOHAWK and the GRAMPUS were other steam-powered ships that serviced Randolph.
Telegraphic communication was opened from Memphis to Fort Wright on June 7, 1861. Yet it seems that the fort never had any postal services.
Transcribed Letter of the Cooper Family in Quito
July 6, 1861
I seat myself once more to drop you a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope when these few lines reaches you they may find you and your family well.
I received your letter the 4. Mother was up to see me the other day. She is tolerable well. She is acoming home before long. I am getten along very well. I haf done a heap of work since I haf been at Randolph but we are don I expect. We will be ordird to Madrid in a few days. We haf plenty to eat and to ware.
Thare is abot 10,000 men heare. I don’t think that we will ever haf a fite heare all though old Coat ses he is agoing to take dinner in Memphis the fifteenth of this month. I hope he will have a jolly time of it.
Eli is agettin along tolerbly well. I would come home if I could get off but thare is no reason for me to get off.
John don’t join eny compney untill you ar obligated for I an bound down titer than a negro. Wee get (1, 18 acct)? a month and every thing furnished.
Give my love to Josephine and the children and ecept a large potion of your self. Wright soon as you get this letter. Tell Father to wright to me. So nothing more at presant but wright soon.
Direct your letter to Fort Wright, Randolph 4th Redgement Company D in the cear of A. J. Keller.
Tell all of the family howdy and tell them to wright to me. I have a bad chance to wright. When you see Father tell him to wright and I will wright him. So nothing more at presant but remember your truly brother.
W. B. Robison
to J. W. Robison
(Letter from Will B. Robison, son of Jacob Gray Robison, brother of John W. Robison)
By the end of July, 1861 the short-lived Provisional Army of Tennessee was near its end. On July 31st the Tennessee forces officially became the properity of the Confederacy. The River Defense Brigade received orders on July 26th to prepare to move northward to Columbus, Kentucky. General Sneed was soon to be out of a job and Private John G. Law wrote of their impending departure from Tipton County:
By the middle of August there remained at Randolph merely a corporal’s buard. But from early May through July, 1861 the nearly forgotten village of Randolph had come alive once again, thronged with the numerous soldiers and families visiting their brave “Southrons” who were greatly unaware of what the future held in store for them. The same cruel fate that brought destruction and defeat to the Confederacy came early to Randolph. Within less than a year this small community was razed to the ground. Only one structure was lift standing, compliments of William T. Sherman. The rival of Memphis was no more.
Report of Col. Loren Kent, Twenty-ninth Illinois Infantry.
Cairo, Ill., October 29, 1864.
SIR: As the senior officer on board, under orders from headquarters District of West Tennessee, I have the honor to submit the following as a report of the trip of the steamer Belle Saint Louis, from Memphis, Tenn., to this place:
We left Memphis at or about 6p.m. of the 27th instant with a large number of passengers, including several officers and about fifty discharged and furloughed soldiers. Of this number six were paymasters returning to Saint Louis from payment of troops in the field. They had with them, I was informed by one of the corps, about $40,000. The steamer reached Randolph, Tenn., about 12 o’clock of same night, landed, and proceeded to take on board eight bales of cotton under permit of the military authorities at Memphis, the port from which the boat was cleared. The cotton belonged to one Harris, who was the first to leave the boat. He appeared to hasten at once to the top of the bank and immediately a party of armed rebels, numbering, I should think, at least fifty, rushed toward the boat, discharging their arms, and attempted to get on. Only six of them succeeded, as Capt. Alexander Zeigler, master, as soon as they were discovered, ordered that the steamer be backed into the stream, which was done, leaving the second clerk, Mr. George Atherton, and crew ashore. The rebels on board entered the engine-room at once, ordered the engine to be reversed, and the boat run to the landing. By their knowledge of their duties and their coolness they succeeded in only complying with part of their orders, and kept the boat at a sufficient distance from the shore to prevent others from getting on board. Defeated in their effort these rebels then attempted to reach the pilot and compel him to execute the orders they had given the engineers. By this time the passengers had not only become thoroughly aroused, but most thoroughly panic-stricken. The appearance of the rebels in the cabin and their orders to surrender gave rise on the part of many to the belief that we were then past relief. The only arms on board were pistols in possession of officers, and in many cases these were either with their baggage in the party’s room or in unserviceable condition. My first effort upon observing the critical condition of affairs was to see that orders were given not to land the steamer under any circumstances, knowing that under way these rebels on board could be easily disposed of by superior numbers. Majors Smith and Beeler, paymasters, with their pistols, advanced to the forward part of the boat just as the men before mentioned were ascending to seize the pilot. Shots were at once exchanged and Major Smith severely wounded, from the effects of which he died on the evening of the succeeding day. Major Beeler received a severe wound in the breast, but continued to fight until he had killed one and mortally wounded another. He then was able to return to the cabin and lingered until about noon of the succeeding day. The rebels then observing their failure to capture the boat and being aware of their own danger, escaped by jumping overboard. I do not know whether they succeeded in reaching the shore or not. Mr. L. F. McGowan, paymaster’s clerk, one of the engineers sick in his berth, and a negro were severely, though not fatally, wounded. Majors Smith and Beeler deserve great praise for their bravery and presence of mind. Both had previously served in the line of the army with commendable distinction.
The pilots, S. A. McPheeters, Lewis Moan, and assistant Charles Zeigler stood by the wheel and never flinched, though shots were repeatedly discharged at them. John McBride, engineer, and John Dorris and George Beebe, assistants, never left their posts, even while their livers were threatened. To all the officers of the boat, and these in particular, especial credit is due for a display of coolness and bravery which saved the boat and passengers from capture. Permit me to say that no suspicion of collusion with the rebels, who were a portion of Forrest’s command, rests upon Captain Zeigler or any officers of the steamer. The permit for the boat to land was seen by the Government aide on board, Mr. Peterson, who also gave his consent to have the cotton taken on board. With the exception of Mr. Harris, who was left with the rebels, all are exonerated from blame.
The steamer arrived at Cairo on last evening without further molestation.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Col. E. D. Townsend,
This reference to Randolph must be brief. To write all the history of our old historic shrine would require a large volume.
No complete history of West Tennessee could possibly be written without frequent reference to Randolph. Once the most important river port along this stretch of river, a community of opulence, and one, as all the annalists delight to tell us, once the proud rival of the little village called Memphis.
Randolph was officially founded in 1828. Situated beneath a bluff bank (Second Chickasaw Bluff) that rises abruptly some 300 feet from the river’s surface, commanding a delightful view of several miles up and down the great “Father of Waters” (named by the Indians), the mighty Mississippi River. Overlooking the forests and farmlands of Arkansas on the opposite shore. It is named after the late talented Virginian, of Roanoke, Virginia, John Randolph.
The rich and fertile table lands in the vicinity of Randolph early attracted men of wealth and intelligence.
In 1823, Jesse Benton is said to have been the first man to settle on the Chickasaw bluffs, or the site of Randolph. He established a small trading post and it soon became a stop over for emigrants traveling West. Traders from the interior of West Tennessee floated down Hatchie River on rafts, bringing their furs and hides to Benton. His business grew and he began expanding. The town started growing and in a few months its fame spread among the settlers and its population increased from Benton and Indians to a dozen or more families. All did well.
Randolph had grown into a town by 1829. Most of the business places were located under the hill on the banks of the river. Ten doctors had already set up office, three commission warehouses, six dry goods stores, one tavern, and approximately thirty families.
It received within eight years of its incorporation legislative authorization to extend its limits. On Tuesday, December s8, 1830, John T. Brown and Robert Bedford as proprietors and agents for the other proprietors of Randolph, produced in open court of Tipton County a plan and map of town of Randolph.
Randolph had an excellent harbour for steam and flatboats at all stages of water.
Some of the earliest business firms in the 1830’s were: Edmund Booker, commission merchant; McCorkle & Holmes, general store; James N. Smith & Co. general store located on Hurricane Hill. This is said to have been the only store of importance on top of the bluffs.
A. Moorehead & Co. operated one of the largest general stores under the hill. They kept ladies’ cloaks, hats, bonnets, men’s suits, hats, boots and shoes. Jordan Brown, Robert Smither and Gabriel Smither were large cotton buyers. Charles Hood was a commission merchant, J. Postelthwait and Co. were commission merchants, buyers of livestock, cotton, wool, and dealers of iron. Forsythe, Goodwin and Fords, commission merchants; Caruthers, Harris and Co. were commission merchants. John H. Haight was a cotton buyer and commission merchant. J. A. Read and Co. were commission men, so were Lawrence and Brown; Charles Hood and J. T. Valleau were dealers in wagons and farm equipment.
John T. Conley was a tailor. he made suits for the best families. In 1834, Daniel Vaught was appointed postmaster at Randolph. Among the doctors who lived at Randolph then were Dr. B. H. Ligon, Dr. Issac N. Jones and Dr. John Milton Hunt. Dr. Hunt drowned near centennial island on the Mississippi at the early age of thirty-three years. He was a nephew of Capt. Anderson Hunt.
A stagecoach line operated from Somerville to Randolph in 1834, this was the earliest mode of land transportation.
On June 26, 1836, the steamer, “Tuskina” with 300 Kentucky volunteers on board, landed at Randolph for supplies. There was a big wood yard near her landing and she remained in port two hours loading wood for fuel. A fife and drum corps furnished the citizens with music and the elite of the town went on board, distributing flowers among the soldiers.
As a major part of the romantic history of West Tennessee, studded with the brave deeds and accomplishments of sturdy pioneers, the story of the once thriving city of Randolph, on the Mississippi River banks in Tipton County, stands out in base relief above most of the many incidents of a century and half ago. Randolph was a city that was, to the pioneers, destined to be a Metropolis. F. S. Latham thought Randolph would be the Metropolis of West Tennessee and so established there in 1834, his newspaper, the Randolph Recorder. The advertisements of Randolph business houses in the files of that paper attest to the town’s prosperity. (These newspapers can be found in the Tennessee State Library, Nashville, Tn.)
In 1834, four hotels had been built. One called “Planters Hotel”, another one “Washington Hall”, this one was the scene of many fashionable parties. J. H. Ghent was one of the hotel owners under the hill.
the population of the town was 1,000 in 1835. By 1838, it had good private schools (one of them called a college) nearly fifty business houses, including a distillery, two wholesale whiskey houses and twelve saloons.
Capt. Anderson Hunt, was serving as director of Randolph Bank when depression hit in 1839.
In the first edition of the Randolph Recorder, Latham stated: “In consequence to superior advantage to steamboats by her deep, bold shore, the beautiful rolling country… the march of Randolph is onward, and she must owing to her superabundant advantages, and in spite of neighborly towns rise to great importance. Cotton and corn are our principal staple commodities. Of the former article we have thus far from the last crop shipped from our port 10,000-12,000 bales yielding upwards of $500,000. The morality of the people here at Randolph are unquestionable.”
Before good wagon roads and railroads were made, nearly all of the commercial wealth of the country passed up and down the rivers. The very worst characters of the country assembled along the rivers for the purpose of stealing and robbing from the boats, and sometimes bands of them would take possession of a little river town and defy the authorities. They were called river pirates. John A. Murrell was a Tennessean of whom his countrymen have just caused to be ashamed. He made himself famous or rather infamous, as the “great land pirate”. He organized a clan (known as the Murrell Clan) of thieves, robbers, gamblers cutthroats and ruffians into one band of which he was chief. He operated extensively around Randolph in the 1830’s. His headquarters were set up a short distance down the river from Randolph. There’s a cave located about four miles below Randolph on “Sugar Creek”, known as “Murrell’s Cave”. This cave was large enough at that time for Murrell’s clan to hide their horses in and anything else they could steal. Most of it has caved in as of today, but in the early 1900’s the front room measured approximately 16×20. You cannot enter the cave now, but you can still see in the front part of it and the opening going into the back room. It is advisable not to try to enter due to cave-ins.
Some of the merchants of Randolph in 1937 were: Nathaniel Potter, Milton Hunt, Monterief and Postlewaith, Rose and Brothers, Smither and Bowles, all of whom carried an extensive general store and bought cotton.
Despite the glowing display of civic pride, all was not really so well in the new town. A series of setbacks affected its growth. In the 1840’s Randolph had begun to decline.
True, the failure of Randolph to get the Memphis and Charleston railroad, which Memphis did get, started its downfall.
Another blow that went against Randolph was the Civil War. From May, 1861, to May, 1865, little was done, talked of or thought of in Tennessee except war. Early in 1861 every county seat became a military camp. The lawyers and doctors left their office, merchants left their stores, the farmers and laborers left the fields, the young men left the colleges – all that were fit for military service joined the Army. Every where resounded the preparation for a fierce and bloody war.
The height of prosperity and glory that was once the Randolph of the 1840’s was almost gone by the time of the beginning of the Civil War. The streets that had once bustled with activity of people and carriages were practically deserted. The ring of the carpenter’s hammer and the shouts of men at work could not be heard as the town had ceased to expand and grow because its men had gone to war and its economy was crumbling.
Listed are the blows that ruined Randolph:
The reasons for the decline of Randolph
- Failure to secure the county seat in 1823.
- The second blow to Randolph came in 1829 when the Post Office department of the federal government established a tri-weekly mail line of four-horse post coaches from Nashville via Jackson, Bolivar, Somerville and Raleigh to Memphis. While Randolph was served by a weekly one-horse mail line from Jackson, via Brownsville, Covington and Randolph to Memphis.
- Failure to secure a proposed canal to connect the Hatchie River to the Tennessee River.
- In 1834 the Government purchased the Chickasaw lands in north Mississippi and opened them for settlement.
- Randolph suffered another blow in the early 1830’s when A. M. Cambreling claimed title to 1,000 acres of land on which Randolph was located. Finally when the court decision was made, a group of Randolph’s citizens negotiated a compromise settlement and around Sept. 1835, bought back their town for $8,000.
- A Charter was granted for a railroad from LaGrange to Memphis and not to Randolph.
- Financial Depression of 1837-1839.
- It was learned in 1837 that a proposed turnpike from Middle Tennessee to Randolph would not be built.
- The channel had been slowly moving away from the second bluff, and by 1838, the harbor was so far out that cotton-shipping, and the steamboat trade generally, were diverted to Memphis.
- Another blow to Randolph came in 1845, when it became certain that the proposed railroad from Charleston to the Mississippi would build into Memphis instead of Randolph.
- Randolph’s worst blow was the burning of the town by Federal soldiers in Sept. 1862.
- The final blow came to Randolph in 1885 when the town was again burned. Randolph was reincorporated March 19, 1913, though many insisted there was nothing on the bluff to incorporate, except a hope.
Their town burned, Randolph now lay in ashes. The people, however, were not of a stock to sit down and give themselves up to despair. They went to work as best they could to “reconstruct” their fortunes. The pioneers of Randolph were a brave, patient, hardy race of whom their descendants are justly proud.
The first store to open after the close of the war was that of G. W. Perry in 1865. By 1870 two more had opened, that of Angus and Chapman; James Dickey. During the time between 1870-1880, the merchants opening business places were: W. T. Chapman, Bert Hunt, George Delashman, and Joe Barton. In 1883, a little one room Methodist Church was built on land given by A. S. Templeton.
In 1885, the town was again almost totally destroyed by fire. Two stores that were not damaged during the fire were that of George Pennell & Co., and A. E. Hunt, both carrying stock of general merchandise. The physicians of Randolph during the time of 1885-1886 were: Dr. H. Rose, Dr. Cook,, and Dr. Read. In 1887, were Dr. C. F. Hedrick and Dr. W. H. Richardson.
In the early 1900’s Randolph still had a good harbour for steamboats. Some of the steamboats were as follows: The Eclipse, Idlewild, Robert E. Lee, Jim Lee, Harry Lee, Sadie Lee, Rosie Lee, Fred Herald, Tarscon and the ones pictured in the picture section of this book. One of the first towboats to ply the waters of the Mississippi by Randolph was the “Nokomas”.
Some of the business places under the hill were: Barton’s gristmill; Barton’s grocery and merchantile; Willie Vines grocery; McMann’s grocery and merchantile; Post Office in one side of Barton’s store; (the heavy mail was delivered to this post office by the steamboat “Ossining”); Barton’s sawmill; a two-story coffin warehouse; Barton’s steam cotton gin; McMann’s steam cotton gin; several houses and boarding houses; Dr. Ervin; Dr. Feldman and Dr. Frazier.
On top of the hill were: Dr. Holliday, Dr. Burke’s Office, Graves & Templeton store, Lodge Hall called “Oddfellows Lodge”, (later turned into a skating rink).
On the brow of a 95-foot bluff, overlooking the river, stood the old Randolph school. Lot of good memories are still with people who attended the school. Lot of happy days were spent there up until it closed in 1949.
All over the vine-tangled hills overlooking the Mississippi River are embankments which repeat to those of us who live today, the story of Randolph’s most interesting period – that period when the federal gunboats were descending the Mississippi in their attempts to capture Memphis. (Civil War Period). Those earth embankments concealed the mortar batteries which were manned by Confederate soldiers in their futile attempt to prevent the passage of flotilla onward to Memphis.
High on one of the bluffs overlooking the river stood the old Ft. Wright Barracks. Soldiers were domiciled here during the Civil War. Set deep in the bluff behind where Fr. Wright Barracks stood are the remains of an underground powder magazine, built by the Confederate Army. Gunpowder from this storage place supplied the gun embankments on the bluffs overlooking the river. The magazine is walled in with brick, hard and smooth as fine brick of today’s manufacture. It has two parallel compartments. Old settlers give the information that a tunnel 200-ft. long furnished entry and exit. (The magazine still stands today but not advisable to enter.) the two rooms are the exact size, approximately 20 ft. long, 15 ft. wide and has 10 ft. high arched ceilings.
If things had gone a little differently, the town bearing the name of the Conservative Virginian Statesman, John Randolph, might well have been the largest city in Tennessee.
Now only a melancholy quiet exists, broken by the sound of an occasional automobile, or by a towboat sounding a discordant blast on the river as it sweeps southward a few yards away.
Today, the only interest in Randolph is its past, for virtually nothing else exists. There’re two grocery stores left, that of, Wilbut Sullivan and Robert Turnage, both descendants of the early settlers. Two churches of which we are justly proud, Randolph Methodist and Randolph Assembly of God, and quite a number of families.
Nothing remains to testify to its past prosperity – nothing is the same – now its greatness only a memory, Randolph continues to overlook the river which made it great.
September 24, 1862
Headquarters 5th Division
Col. C. C. Walcott
The object of the expedition you have been detailed for is to visit the town of Randolph where yesterday the packet Eugene was fired upon by a party of guerrillas. Acts of this kind must be promptly punished and it is almost impossible to reach the actors, for they come from the interior and depart as soon as the mischief is done. But the interest and well-being of the country demands that all such attacks should be followed by a punishment that will tend to prevent a repetition.
Two boats will be placed at your disposal, one, the Eugene, to proceed on the regular trip to St. Louis when you are done with her and the other, a chartered boat the remainder of your command, with a section of rifled guns that will be sent to the level by Major Taylor. Get off by 5 or 6 p.m. at Cuba Landing; then send the Eugene ahead moving under steam without landing to Fort Pillow and back, till she meets you, following more slowly. You should both be ready to reach Randolph at daybreak or a little before.
I think the attack on the Eugene was by a small force of guerrillas from Loosahatchie who by this time have gone back and therefore that you will find no one at Randolph; in which case you will destroy the place, leaving one house to mark the place. Let the people know and feel that we deeply deplore the necessity of such destruction, but we must protect ourselves and the boats which are really carrying stores and merchandise for the benefit of secession families, whose fathers and brothers are in arms against us. If any extraordinary cases presents itself to your consideration you may spare more than one house; but let the place feel that all such acts of cowardly firing upon boats filed with women and children and merchandise must be severely punished.
It is barely possible that the army of Brickenridge, last heard from at Davis Mill, designs to reach the Mississippi River at Randolph, in which went the party there yesterday may have been an advance guard. If this be so the Eugene will discover the fact, for they will have artillery; then you should be careful as your force would be inadequate; but if the Eugene pass Randolph and return to meet you it is certain that it is a guerrilla raid, then you can safely proceed. Do not land at an accustomed place, but consult with Captains and Pilots.
Approach the shore below the landing, get a couple of companies over as skirmishers and move rapidly into Randolph. Of course, the inhabitants will be all gone, or will be expecting you and be prepared for anything. Keep your men in the reach of your voice, and do your work systematically. Let your quartermates take a minute account of every house or piece of property destroyed under this order, with the names of owners if possible. If all is clear, you can send parties inland toward Covington, but not over 5 miles.
When done you can take aboard your boat the men from the Eugene and let her proceed on her voyage. If you find men you suspect of guilt bring them in, but no women or children. Also you may capture any slaves, horses, or mules belonging to known rebels.
W. T. Sherman
This concludes Rollin’ On The River by Helen Ballard. At the end of her work, she included 56 questions in an effort to gather memories, feelings and, just in general, more information about Randolph. If you are able to submit answers to any of the following, please submit them through the web form by clicking here. Also, if you know an older person who has stories about Randolph, please help them complete the form as their memories are treasured gifts!